More than 100 people turned out to mark the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy at a mass, reception and community-building event on Sunday, Oct. 29 – the actual date the storm tore through Ortley Beach in 2012 with extreme winds, rain and flooding waves.
The anniversary gathering – “A Commemoration of Superstorm Sandy and Celebration of Survival” – was organized jointly by OBVTA and St. Elisabeth’s Chapel-by-the-Sea, where the event was held. It was open to all members of the community and also drew firefighters representing first responders, former Toms River police chief (now Ocean County sheriff) Michael G. Mastronardy, Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher, two town council members and other local dignitaries. It was covered by the Asbury Park Press and News12. See Pictures Below.
The weather was fitting for commemoration of a hundreds-year storm: A wicked all-day rainstorm, with heavy winds, whipped sand all around the chapel on Third Avenue across from the boardwalk and beach. Nevertheless, women, men and children turned out and stayed for several hours to participate and share their Sandy experiences.
The event began at 9:30am with the ringing of the St. Elisabeth’s church bell. Rev. Douglas Eberly, assisted by Rev. Elizabeth Ohlson, who acted as deacon, celebrated a traditional Sunday Episcopal mass and used his homily to focus on Sandy and the spirit of community that pulled Ortley Beach through the storm. The mood of celebration was enhanced by three baptisms: two babies, Veda Eleanor Cutshall and Emily Grace Romanow, and Robert Carter, who the pastor said is in his 80s.
The pews, all full, emptied for communion, and many voices joined together for the hymns, led by Will Schruba on organ. Fittingly, the service ended with the hymn “Eternal Father, strong to save,” which begins with, “Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm has bound the restless wave,” and whose chorus is, “O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.”
At the end of the service, St. Elisabeth’s senior warden, Dennis Bellars, was presented with a proclamation by Councilwoman Maria Maruca and Councilman-at-Large Maurice “Mo” B. Hill, marking the church’s return to the community.
The St. Elisabeth’s Chapel, which had withstood many prior storms, was completely swept away by Sandy, but marked its full rebuild and recovery this summer with a dedication service. The new church, larger than the original, is constructed with wood slats and beams, resembling the hull of a ship. Its eastern windows look out over the boardwalk and the sea.
After the mass, the congregants entered the fellowship hall, where food, dessert, coffee and a giant strawberry shortcake was served in celebration of the baptisms. The OBVTA obtained contributions of food from Acme (which provided water), OB-CO (which provided donuts), resident Mike Pedano (who purchased and donated a six-foot sub) and resident Susan Notte (who donated the homemade scones she serves at her inn and tearoom in Toms River, 600 Main).
To mark our renewal as a community and pledge our continued devotion to the beach and sea, residents took part in a symbolic “coming together” ceremony. Organized by Sharon Colucci, president of the Friends of Ortley Beach, participants poured a small cup of colored sand into a large glass vessel, the grains mixing into a colorful blend. OBVTA President Anthony Colucci then spoke, reminiscing about all that had transpired on that night five years ago, and in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and how far the community has come since.
Anthony and Sharon, as representatives of the community, then braved a downpour and high winds to pour the multi-color mix of sand onto the beach.
The last participants left around noon, scurrying to cars as the driving rain and wind continued. No one complained.
Links to several news media stories on the Sandy 5th anniversary are below.
Members of OBVTA recently participated in the Toms River “Hackathon” where Ortley Beach residents were asked to brainstorm what we would have done differently after superstorm Sandy, and what can be done now, to make Ortley Beach more resilient to future storms and rising ocean water levels. The output of the workshop is available HERE
Steve Sherrill, our OBVTA member who is responsible for all aspects of membership, including recruiting new members, retaining existing ones, and keeping everyone’s membership record up to date has produced a detailed report of the 2017 membership efforts and results. The report can be found HERE